In June 2017 I changed my life. It wasn’t a new year’s resolution. I had no inkling on 1 January that by the summer I would be stepping in to the unknown. But here I was, 41, two kids, a mortgage, an awesome husband, no job and happier than I’d been in a very long time.
Up until this summer I was in a leadership position in a large charity. I’d been there for ten years. In that time my life had changed beyond recognition, as so many people’s do during their 30s. I’d had two children in two years; I’d gone from working full time, to part-time, to sort of full time again (i.e. I was working the hours but not getting the pay. Oh the joys of ‘flexible’ working). My career had flown, then stalled, then picked up again, then stuttered. I was well know, well liked and well respected. And I was miserable.
It hadn’t always been that way. I’ve never totally loved my job but I got a lot out of it and I liked the sense of achievement that came with progression up the career ladder. I have pretty much always worked for charities. Being aligned to a purpose, the greater good, motivated and inspired me. And I’ve worked with awesome, super sharp, inspiring people. So believe me when I say, I am aware how indulgent this misery was. From an external view I had it all – good job, beautiful family, happy marriage, nice house – but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t down in the ditch miserable. I could get out of bed in the morning and I had plenty of fun times but I had allowed work to become all consuming. I had lost all perspective. So whilst I had worked for periods at full time hours when the girls were younger and knew it could be done while retaining a sense of balance, I had lost that ability to switch off.
I’ve always known that I would want to work after I had the girls. Everyone has their own right balance of this and I salute all mothers for the choices they make, or have to make, for themselves and their family. What has worked for me is being busy at work and then coming home and being fully present for my children. I actually found it easier to do this when I had a positive focus at work. But something significant shifted this year. I was consumed day and night by work. I couldn’t shake it off. So while I was at home I was almost permanently attached to my phone or I was deep inside my own head: miles away from where I should have been. The longer it went on, the more and more miserable I became. Friends started to comment on it as I either sat quietly listening to them or bored them with the woes of my working life. It took me some time to realise that something had to change.
I like to be good at things. Who doesn’t. And the idea of walking away from something filled me with the shame of failure. I would be letting people down. I would ruin my career. I would crush my self-confidence. These thoughts whirled through my head at 100 miles an hour pretty much constantly. It wasn’t until we had a break away at Easter that the fog suddenly lifted. I was surrounded by family, the sun was shining, I was relaxed and laughing and I had this sudden gut-wrenching, vertiginous, Jaws dolly-zoom moment of clarity. I’m wasting my life. My kids are growing faster than I knew was possible, I’m young(ish), healthy and surrounded by people who love me. And as clear as a bell I heard the words in my head: Get Out.
And so I did. I let my boss know that it was time for me to move on and we agreed the details of my departure. And far than feeling terrified, I felt free. My life was mine again. Now I just needed to decide what to do with it…